Michael Mansfield: Is nobody bothered that Widgery got it so wrong?

Share
Related Topics

The recognition by David Cameron of a long-standing truth, in language as unequivocal as the Bloody Sunday report upon which it was based, restored faith, hope and life into a community that had laboured under a long shadow cast by unfounded innuendo. Combined with a full apology, it liberated the spirit of families who have been imprisoned for 38 years by an injustice perpetrated by the British state.

The concluding paragraph of Lord Saville's overall assessment was: "The firing by soldiers of 1 Para on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army, and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."

As the Prime Minister pointed out, these were shocking, indefensible events, especially because they were underpinned by the perpetrators' false accounts. These have been upheld across 38 years and two public inquiries. They will need to be scrutinised by the prosecuting authorities as well as by the consciences of individual soldiers. For the sake of truth and reconciliation, it is hoped that integrity will finally compel those who fired to put the record straight.

There is, however, one major element in this catastrophe that has been largely overlooked – the responsibility of Lord Widgery and his team during the first Bloody Sunday inquiry in April 1972. This was never part of Lord Saville's remit. Nevertheless, the Widgery report compounded the felony and inflamed bitterness for generations to come. In a Channel 4 television programme entitled Secret History: Bloody Sunday broadcast in 1992, Bishop Daly said: "What really made Bloody Sunday so obscene was the fact that people afterwards, at the highest level of British justice, justified it."

This failure also needs to be acknowledged. No system of justice is worthy of its professed principles if, as soon as it is under pressure, its independence and judgement evaporates.

The flawed Widgery report cannot be easily explained away. It was not compiled by someone of inexperience or weak disposition. There was no lack of resources and, importantly, all the necessary evidence was available.

We now know through documentation which came to light subsequently that hundreds of civilian eyewitness statements were ignored or marginalised. Glaring inconsistencies in the accounts of the firers were either not disclosed or barely challenged. It was alleged there were 15 engagements, of which nine targets were either nail or petrol bombers, the rest were gunmen. The shot list was totally unsatisfactory. The grid references did not make sense. Lord Saville's conclusion was succinct. First, "no one threw, or threatened to throw, a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday. Second, all the soldiers, apart from private T, who were in our view responsible for the casualties insisted that they had shot at gunmen or bombers, which they had not..."

In 1995 a letter was found in the Public Record Office in London. It contained a minute of a meeting between Lord Widgery, Edward Heath, then Prime Minister, and the then Lord Chancellor on 1 February 1972. Among many items, Mr Heath noted that "It had to be remembered that we were in Northern Ireland fighting not only a military war but the propaganda war."

The system of justice must never again allow itself to be subverted.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project